Fading Fear Factor? By Craig Fuller

There is plenty being written and discussed about what happened during and following the meeting between President Trump and President Putin. Truthfully, humiliating as the statements, misstatements and corrections are, little has changed.

No fewer missiles exist. No troops have been moved. No reduction of suffering in Syria has been experienced.

What has shifted are the political winds in Washington, D.C.

Some leaders persuade by the strength of their arguments and rhetoric. Like it or not, President Trump uses fear.

He attacks foes with abandon. He denounces elected officials who defy him. And, he endorses candidates who support him opposing those who dare to disagree with him even in his own party.

This approach left the nation with Republican leaders of the House and Senate, where the party currently holds narrow majorities, with a dilemma. Often unsure about what the President’s policy preferences are and pretty certain they will change on a whim, the leaders hesitated opposition or even criticism out of fear. Lack of clarity, challenging as it might make the governing process, was far better than encountering the wrath of the complainer in chief.

That changed this week.

Consider these factors:

Are concerned Republicans and Independents more supportive of the President at the end of the week than they were at the beginning of the week?

Are incumbent Republican officeholders feeling more obliged or less obliged to voice unqualified support for the President at the end of the week?

Are conservative Republican incumbents who have been in lock-step with President Trump feeling more vulnerable or less vulnerable from challengers in the upcoming elections?

Finally, are potential Republican challengers to President Trump in 2020 feeling more embolden or less embolden to take on the sitting President?

My view: none of these questions can objectively be answered in a way helpful to the President.

Now, one bad (let’s make that very bad) week in July is a long way from November 2018 when voters will be asked to vote on all 435 House members and a third of the members of the United State Senate. However, it is very hard for me to see how the missteps of this week don’t play into the Fall elections. And, this is not good news for the Administration.

Look for more Congressional races to get close, or even tilt to the party out of power – the Democrats.

Look for more Republicans to feel disconnected from their party….yes, there will be strong and vocal supporters for the President, but 25% of the Republican vote will not be enough to keep safe Republicans safe.

Most of all, look for Republican leaders who have spent years trying to work through serious issues like immigration, health care, trade and our national defense and intelligence structures to find themselves caring far less about the utterances coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Putin may not have been moved one iota this week, but the political winds in Washington shifted big time. As for how long, to quote the President’s favorite expression, “we’ll see.”

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Grievance by Al Sikes

Grievance, overtime, becomes debilitating. It was the translation key to yesterday’s performance of President Trump.

Trump, whose sense of grievance has captured his presidency, was disgraceful in the conduct we know about during his Helsinki talks with Vladimir Putin. He has descended along a dangerous emotional spectrum as his sense of grievance has festered. He doesn’t even trust his appointees. The intelligence agencies are led by his appointees yet he dismisses their findings or pits them against Russian claims as if he is an arbitrator, not the leader of what has been the most consequential country in the world.

Vladimir Putin leads a nation that often feeds on grievance. His responses in an interview with Chris Wallace demonstrated that he can convert grievance into clever propaganda. It is hard to know how most Americans might treat his assertions, as most of us devote little time to actually thinking about Russia. Of course, policy driven by grievance is not helping Russia.

Trump in the aftermath of the talks did an interview with his toady Sean Hannity; illuminating. Putin sat down with Chris Wallace; Wallace’s Dad Mike would have been proud. Within the limitations (sequential translation), Wallace was excellent.

As I type, all of the Trump appointees who have much to do with intelligence collecting and analyzing are still in office. There have been no resignations, even though Trump gave their intelligence work no higher standing than Putin’s allegations.

One of my lessons from working in Washington is that many people who occupy the ranks of the political bureaucracy are just happy to be there. They busy themselves day in and day out with self-important motion and often in the evening are honored guests at dinner parties. They get to read about themselves in the paper and count on the office they hold to burnish their resume. As one friend noted, “what’s not to like.”

America is now headed by a person who perceives himself as a strong man, even as his weaknesses sap his strength on a daily basis. He is largely served by appointees who are so weak that apparently no insult will dislodge them. Jeff Sessions has been publically berated by Trump for over a year yet remains Attorney General. Fortunately, the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, is strong and does not cower.

As I have noted before, the Congress makes laws and appropriates money. Trump can do neither. Executive orders can easily be rescinded and agreements with other countries that are not ratified by the US Senate by a two-thirds vote, terminated.

Finally, there are many leadership lessons from the actions of the last several weeks. Trump acted as a responsible President in the selection of a Supreme Court nominee; I encouraged Trump to study Trump’s orderly process. Now I would encourage Trump to study Putin. While I am no fan of Putin or grievance-driven policy, I find his ability to voice grievance and make the best of it a lesson for those who cannot let go.

As our country has survived in the aftermath of assassinations and scandals, it will ride out Trump’s tenure with an assist from those who crafted our nation’s Constitution.

Postscript: Robert Mueller, the Independent Counsel, has taken a number of concrete actions, most recently announcing indictments of Russian agents, who it is alleged hacked into the Democrat National Committee server, among other things.

In my view he has had time to determine whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. This charge is the most important and its lack of resolution is toxic.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Out and About (Sort of): Alice in Wonderland by Howard Freedlander

Suppose, just suppose, that a political strategy focused solely on civility. If you’re not mean to me, I won’t be mean to me. If you don’t throw darts, I won’t throw them. We’ll simply stress policy differences grounded in fact and record, not distortion and innuendo.

No sooner did the gubernatorial primary elections conclude on June 26, 2018, than Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous went for the jugular. Of course, they did. They needed to appeal immediately to their base supporters and raise money and interest.

They needed to set their marks: I will attack and set the agenda; I will define you.  That’s how the game is played. No time for niceties.

So, back to fantasyland.

Through some unexpected and unworldly stroke of reconciliation, Hogan and Jealous would tell us their top priorities, and how they would accomplish them. No mud-slinging. Just wonkish details and rationale.

Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Are you (this optimistic writer) crazy, living in a world inhabited by goody two-shoes people who don’t understand that politics is a contact sport fought by people who understand that magnanimity belongs in church or a book group, not in electoral combat?

More and more I hear people say they no longer read the paper or watch the TV news regularly. They say they are tired of strife and dissidence. They want a break from unsettling, upsetting news. They prefer reading a book.

Or doing anything to ignore the onslaught of infuriating information.

Allow me to admit a tinge of hypocrisy. I sometimes have found myself subconsciously urging a politician to take off the gloves and verbally pummel his or her opponent. That usually unspoken advice has nothing to do with civility, a concept I constantly espouse. It has no connection to the better angels I applauded in a past column. It’s just a guttural feeling. I don’t feel proud of this periodic outbreak of antagonistic thoughts.

My tack this time is different. I’m suggesting that a candidate “out-nice” an opponent. I suggest engaging in no personal attack. I suggest occupying the proverbial high ground and avoid sinking into the depths of dishing dirt and damnation.

It’s possible the heat has affected my thinking. It’s possible the murder of five journalists at the Annapolis Capital Gazette has softened my soul; another mass shooting and pervasive community grief have caused me to think about the emptiness of political combat. It’s possible that a visit to the Talbot County Fair, briefly watching the goat judging, prompted me to value simplicity.

Reality sets in quickly. Discord and condemnation underscore the political process. It’s always been true. Competition breeds contempt.

The public, while fatigued by non-stop partisanship and bickering, subliminally enjoy the rancor and recrimination. Gladiators thrill the masses.

Civility is tough to achieve. Tougher to sustain. It’s easier to choose our camp, our corner in the ring, and then continue to swing away. Our side will be victorious. Concession and conciliation are for the weak. The fight goes on.

I’ll keep hoping for compromise and civil discourse. I’ll try to control my contradictory impulse to win at any cost. It’s not worth it.

I welcome your comments. I suspect a pervasive response will be: “You must be deranged, driven by fantasy and foolishness.”

That reaction would be understandable.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Soul Whispers by George Merrill

I had conversations recently with two friends. They are long-time colleagues. One is a rabbi and the other a priest. They are seasoned clergy. Both think outside the box of sectarian religion and political affiliation. They’re reflective people.

We’d not seen each other for a while. We were catching up. Soon we were discussing the social and political scene in America today.

America’s moral decline soon came up.

We agreed that our social, political and moral codes are fraying. Those supporting the president are as angry and uncivil as those opposing him. The anger finds expression in hostile and mean-spirited exchanges and a pervasive feeling of uncertainty, if not helplessness and doom. We are stuck in a climate of malaise. That’s pretty much the state of affairs and we agreed it’s not going away any time soon. Given those realities, in the interim how might we live our inner lives and help others live theirs? Put differently, how can we stay sane and relevant in a world gone mad?

The rabbi suggested a spiritual exercise. In the short haul, he said, we are limited in what we can do to change things, except to hope and vote. He suggested that we write a letter to our own souls; take the matter up there, rather than engaging in the habitual no-win criticism and carping which I, for one, slip into so easily. What would emerge from such an exercise?

The idea of writing to my soul intrigued me. I began collecting my thoughts. It was a delicate exercise trying to assemble the data to write. A soul brooks no fudging.

Souls whisper. I have to listen carefully to hear. I can con my ego – which typically shouts – but never my soul.

As forthrightly as I could, in the interests of full disclosure, I prepared to write first that I didn’t like Trump one whit. When I see him on TV, the sight of him ties my stomach in a knot.

My soul whispered, “Merrill, don’t give me that, these are not your real thoughts; I know better. You call him a creep and a sleaze.” My soul, mischievously, goaded me: “I’ll bet the ‘Reverend’ would not like those sentiments made public. They’d make him look, well, not any different from the creep and sleaze he’s just scorned with such derisive language.

Listening to one’s soul isn’t always fun. I then had the thought that the meanness and contempt I feel for Trump was as reactive as many conservatives were when Obama was elected president. I’ll bet they said and thought a lot of ugly things, too.

While composing my letter, this first tangle with my soul highlighted what I have suspected is the real heart of the matter, not only in politics, but in how we deal with others; What am I to do with my knee-jerk responses of aversion? They can be vicious and waspish. Do I, as is common, build rationales to justify them, cling to my atavistic impulses and retaliate with all my righteousness blazing? Do I simply ignore them?

Ignoring powerful emotions never works. I know that. They only come out sideways.

What then?

As I consider writing my letter, I know that this internal struggle is timeless. It’s a part of being human. It’s about how discernment is different from reactive judgements and how I distinguish one from the other.

Reactive judgments often carry contempt – at least on this side of the veil – which is why God advises we leave the judging to him. Such judgements have incendiary qualities that stoke an inner seething. That’s when we wish only the worst for who or what we loathe. Such judgements will either mobilize energy or create malaise. When their energy is released, it rarely if ever ends well, or worse still, legitimizes my own craziness. I know this even before my soul confronts me. But, my soul also knows full well that there is also something deliciously seductive about feeling hateful, especially when the hate has been seasoned with a healthy dose of one’s personal sense of rectitude. It’s a rush, a high, and in an absence of anything more substantive, hate and resentment can offer a sense of purpose, a cause to champion. I can feel righteous and ready. It fills a spiritual vacuum.

Discernment is different. Discernment is nuanced. It is a form of discrimination (not prejudice) that reaches beyond outward appearances and sees to the heart of a matter, like an X-Ray goes beyond the surface to reveal what lies beneath. Discernment will not be driven by ignorance, in the way the ego is when making reactive judgements.

A Buddhist myth about an old monk makes the point.

He sits by a stream and watches the current go by. He listens to the gurgling water. He is at peace with himself and the world. He sees a scorpion. It’s floating on a leaf. The Monk knows that downstream the current gets turbulent and will flip the leaf over and surely drown the scorpion. The Monk reaches for the scorpion to take him safely to the shore. The scorpion stings him. In a few minutes, he does the same with another scorpion. It stings him. One of the monk’s disciples standing nearby sees him and rushes over to him. “Master, why do you reach for the scorpions, you know they will sting you?” The monk replies, “Yes, that’s just how they are.”

It’s an odd parable at first glance. Initially I thought the monk was foolish; after all he knows what will happen. I also thought that the monk might do better for all concerned to let the scorpions meet their fate downstream as they would not pose a danger to others.

A closer look at the myth is revealing. In the face of harm that might cause the monk pain if not death, he did not behave reactively. He was a kind and compassionate man. He had no illusions about what scorpions do. He did not react to them with revulsion, anger or fear. He responded with the kindness of his soul, transforming the moment dramatically. The moment was like Dr. King’s March on Washington. King was fully aware of the venom of his adversaries, but he turned a moment that could be potentially toxic into one of hope and promise. The event changed America. Dr. King did not, as with many frustrated Americans today, identify with his angry adversaries and behave like them. He did not lose his own soul under pressure.

Our challenge today is to be as wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves.

For those of us, however, who will hopefully continue to struggle with soul, ego, and specifically with personalities we can’t abide, George Eliot offered this kind but wistful lament: “It was a pity he couldn’a be hatched o’er again, and hatched different.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Breaking Takes on the News by Al Sikes

Breaking Takes on the News

Supreme Court Nominee

A fair number of my Republican friends voted for Donald Trump because of a Supreme Court vacancy and the likelihood of retirements. Their rationale has been affirmed by the President in the orderly and temperate manner in which he has nominated two very ab|e judges.

The Constitution is both enabling and limiting. At the risk of over simplification, the Left stresses the former and the Right the latter. The Left, often frustrated by the messy and difficult job of passing laws through State Legislatures and the Federal one, prefer a Court that finds new rights and thus national laws. The finding of a right to an abortion in the Constitution, in the case of Roe v Wade, is instructive.

We live in intemperate times. President Trump approached the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice in a temperate manner. Trump should study the Trump of recent weeks and seek to emulate him.

Democrats have regularly, and often rightly, criticized Trump’s various intemperate actions. It appears that they intend to become intemperate as they attempt to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Con Job

It is hard to know what the President knows and thinks.

At one point when his intellect was challenged, he bragged about having a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — certainly an impressive business school. Trump has an undergraduate degree.

I am going to take a leap. If you are a Wharton graduate, you must understand Martin Feldstein’s (a Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Reagan Administration) comment in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “the trade deficit reflects the reality that Americans
consume more than we produce”. Mr. President, if you understand that truth, then you must realize that much of your trade agenda is a con — an inflammatory one.

There is a strong case to be made against China for stealing technology and protecting strategic industries. If that were the focus, Wharton might be inclined to celebrate its most famous alumnus.

Game On

It is now widely said that the Republican Party is President Trump’s. Perhaps; he has certainly influenced it — straight jacket orthodoxy has been cashiered.

Yet, the next election for President is 29 months off. A victory in 2020, after contested primaries, would be at least a medium term recognition of his primacy.

It should be noted that Mitt Romney won his U.S. Senate primary election race in Utah over State Representative Mike Kennedy with 73% of the vote. Most won’t recall, but Romney had been forced into a primary election because he lost the delegate count at the State Republican convention.

Romney’s opponent fought him on two fronts. Romney was, he said, insufficiently supportive of Trump’s agenda. Earlier criticisms, some harsh, by Romney of Trump were used to prove the point.

It was also said that Romney was a carpetbagger. You will recall that Romney had been Governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s overwhelming victory in his adopted state was impressive.

A clash between Romney and Trump is inevitable and at some point it will be measured electorally; then the “Trump capture” or not will be clearer.

Taxes

I will spare you the dismal status of U.S. accumulated debt, projected annual deficits and underfunded entitlement obligations. Look them up, but not when you are trying to come back from one drink too many.

We are now being told the contest within the Democrat Party for supremacy will be contested over expanded health benefits and free college tuition.

My suggestion: ask all candidates which taxes will be needed to pay down some level of debt, more fully fund the entitlement promises and pay for any new programs. Require the candidates to do the math.

High risk debt eventually bites. In 2008, it brought down major financial institutions; they either failed or were bailed out. Likewise, millions of homeowners lost their homes because of ill- considered collateralized debt.

America’s economic scale and the international primacy of the dollar have allowed politicians to accumulate debt and over—promise benefits. Fiscal recklessness has become a narcotic; withdrawal a need. If we don’t begin withdrawal, our economic strength will be the victim.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Awaiting an Apology from Andy Harris by Michael H.C. McDowell

I am seeking a full and contrite apology from Congressman Andy Harris, over a verbal attack at a League of Women Voters Republican primary election forum on Sunday, June 10, 2018, at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills.

After a no-show by the other Republican primary candidates, the League cancelled the forum. Mr. Harris, however, agreed to take questions from the audience out in the lobby around 1:45 p.m. I joined a group of about eight voters gathered around Mr. Harris, half of whom I knew from Chestertown, where I live.

Mr. Harris first answered a question on health care and pre-existing conditions. After listening to the end of this particular exchange, I asked Mr. Harris a question on his environmental record. I got about 20 seconds into my question when, suddenly, Mr. Harris interrupted me in an aggressive, accusing tone: “I know who you are. I met you in Chestertown. You threatened violence and to kill one of my campaign workers. If you don’t step away, I will call a state trooper.”

I was absolutely stunned. I responded that this was complete nonsense and demanded he explain and retract his wrongful accusations. He persisted in ignoring my response and once again warned me he would call a state trooper if I further engaged with him.

I was shaken and angered by this utter lie. I took a few moments away from the lobby, to try and understand what had just happened. At no time have I ever threatened violence against anyone, and certainly no one connected with Mr. Harris’s campaign, and I never suggested I might “kill” one of his staffers. Where could this truly shocking accusation of Mr. Harris have come from?

The next morning, I spoke to Mr. Harris’s press secretary, Jacque Clark, and on her specific advice, emailed his campaign manager, Nicole Beus, and followed up two further times. Mr. Harris or his staff never responded.

Minutes after the June 10 attack, I recalled a posting on May 8, from a man who occasionally posts on Mr. Harris’s campaign Facebook site and supports Mr. Harris. I made a comment about this posting and received a threatening message to me and other critics of Mr. Harris from this individual. This person said he had a weapon and could shoot us!

I saw from this man’s personal Facebook page that he seemed to have been in the military, or was possibly still in the military, and his photo on the page shows him wearing military fatigues and brandishing military grade weapons. I responded to his post, saying that his comments were way out of line and possibly illegal and perhaps in breach of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He replied back suggesting I didn’t know what I was talking about. I let him know that I am on the advisory board of an historic military college, and know a number of flag officers, judge advocates-general, and other senior officers. This individual mocked my knowing “big shots,” and I didn’t bother responding further.

Later that day (May 8), I had a text and voicemail message from Mr. Harris’s press staff, which were friendly in tone, saying they were deleting this man’s threatening posts and, because I had responded to those posts, my posts would therefore also disappear and they wanted to explain why. I had no problem with that. I responded to the press staff within minutes, suggesting that this man be unfriended and/or blocked from Mr. Harris’s page and that this person should be reported to law officials. That is the last I heard on that issue.

Jacque Clark told me on the phone on June 11 that she indeed remembered that message to me from Mr. Harris’s staff.

Did Mr. Harris somehow mistakenly connect this man’s threat to the Harris staff with me? Did he completely wrongly attribute the threat to me, on account of this Facebook exchange? I want to know on what basis Mr. Harris justified his outrageous and false allegations about me at a public event.

I felt humiliated, angered, and shaken by Mr. Harris’s behavior towards me on June 10. About 10 minutes after this hostile attack, I showed a male member of Mr. Harris’s campaign staff (a burly bearded man with a Hogan campaign sticker on his shirt) the May 8 text I had received from Mr. Harris’s Capitol Hill staff, about the removal of the threatening post on the Harris Facebook page. The staff person suggested I take up the matter the next day. Did this fellow inform Mr. Harris about the clear evidence which I offered?

Mr. Harris verbally attacked me without any factual basis for his claims, refused to allow me to respond to his false accusations, and threatened several times to call a state trooper.

There are at least four witnesses to this appalling and totally unsubstantiated attack. I have spoken to four of them, three of them in person, one on the phone, and have their names, email addresses, and phone numbers. They completely confirm my account of what Mr. Harris said about me in front of them, to their shock and disapproval.

To repeat, I want a full and contrite apology and full explanation from Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris works for us, the voters, of whom I am one. The voters, and this voter, certainly don’t work for him.

As an elected public servant, Mr. Harris cannot be allowed to make such disparagements of a voter seeking information on his campaign platform.

Mr. Harris has had more than a month to act. He has done nothing. Shame on him. The voters of District 1 deserve better than the bullying, arrogant and offensive Andy Harris.

Michael H.C. McDowell writes from Chestertown.

Out and About (Sort of): Journalism Jolted by Howard Freedlander

I can’t stop thinking about the murder of five journalists nearly two weeks ago at The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis. I’ve read numerous articles about the shooting spree in the newsroom and the deranged and angry suspect. I’ve read each of the obituaries.

The mass shooting, almost commonplace in our violent country, touched me not merely because of its geographical proximity but because of its closeness to my life as a former journalist.

I was a community editor in Caroline and Queen Anne’s County. I never enjoyed a profession more. Unfortunately, the pay was terrible. The business model propagated the stepping-stone culture, implicitly accepting the premise that the product could only be so good. Content would be secondary to profit—when the latter might increase with consistently high-quality journalism.

I moved on for the sake of my family.

The journalists at The Capital, Gazette, along with other small-town and small-city newspapers, are underpaid and overworked. They accept that reality. They love their work and their communities. They believe they are performing a public service by aiding and abetting democracy.

Uh-oh. How does democracy insert itself in a discourse about journalism? Without pesky, incurably curious and sometimes cranky journalists, print or electronic, our government, for example, might function in a sloppy or corrupt manner without any oversight or accountability.

Our media keeps us honest. We can be our better selves. We can allow ethics, not greed, to guide us. We can avoid damaging headlines and investigative stories.

More than 35 years ago, I heard the famed CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite speak at a conference in Nassau organized by the owners of then Chesapeake Publishing. An owner of a small New England newspaper, he opined that community papers provided the glue that kept counties like Talbot, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline and Dorchester and their towns and villages together and compassionate.

He told the story about a pharmacist in Manhattan who died. No one knew, because the New York Times certainly wouldn’t cover the death of a small merchant. A community paper didn’t exist. What was Cronkite’s point? If people know about the good and bad things that affect their neighbors, then they naturally can offer human support and empathy.

Community cohesion results.

Large media outlets cannot cover local stories—or the pharmacist’s death—while focusing on larger matters. Too bad—bigger stories lie in waiting.

The Capital Gazette tragedy has afflicted the Annapolis community with grief and unleashed a reservoir of support. The Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, working with a family and the Baltimore Sun Media Group, immediately responded by raising money for the Capital Gazette Memorial Scholarship Fund for select journalism students at the University of Maryland, College Park.

My youngest daughter knew and liked one of the five, the community correspondent, a woman, Wendi Winters, who loved covering and supporting local news, like her Teen of the Week column. An eyewitness to the rampage watched as Winters tried to distract the gunman by rushing him with a trash can and recycling bin. Before she was shot.

So, a lone assailant, bitterly outraged by an article written in 2011 about his conviction for harassment of a woman, attacked the newspaper, which simply performed its mission to inform. For me, he assaulted an invaluable instrument of democracy. He silenced the voices of five innocent victims.

However, he missed the mark; the newspaper published that day and every day since.

As it should. As it must.

When I read The Star Democrat, as I do daily, I might grumble about its thin content. But I appreciate its value as a community resource. Like everyone, I read the government news, reports of fires and accidents, births and deaths, academic and athletic achievements and, of course, I look at all the pictures of civic participants. I think about Walter Cronkite’s sage comments and feel thankful to be served by a community newspaper long devoted to local coverage.

Our local journalists deserve our gratitude. They serve all of us despite poor pay and long hours. Though they likely will move on to better-paying jobs, I believe they give as much as they get in experience.

Mass shootings have an impact that diminishes but doesn’t kill the spirit. Nor should our commitment to journalism as a critical tent of American democracy weaken or atrophy.

We’re protected by freedom of the press. Every day.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Good Samaritan by George Merrill

Who is my neighbor? The real question is, who are my neighbors?

I remember attending a Eucharist years ago. The homily was memorable, partially because it was mercifully short but also poignant. I’ve never forgotten it.

During the liturgy, the celebrant recited the Summary of the Law: “Thou shalt love the lord thy God will all thy heart with all thy soul and with all thy might, and thy neighbor as thyself.” During his homily, the celebrant posed the question again but rhetorically this time, asking who is my neighbor? He responded, “All those with whom I share space.”

There’s a Biblical story called the Good Samaritan. The story is well known beyond its sectarian boundaries. In fact, it has found its way into American law; it’s known as the Good Samaritan Law. It offers legal protection to people who give assistance to those who are, or whom they believe to be, injured, ill, or in peril. If the help does no good, there are no legal repercussions. We’re free to do good whenever we can. It’s comforting to know in today’s litigious society that when we risk caring for others, we have the full weight of the law behind us.

It’s a humane law. It underscores the assumption of a basic solidarity among humans, and all those with whom we share space. Everyone is our neighbor; some are next door while others are thousands of miles away. Our job, where it’s within our power, is to look out for one another.

Today there’s an undeniable rip current, pulling against our humane instincts. It’s a mindless drive to make those who would naturally be our friends, into our adversaries. One loyal public servant after another is mocked or fired; agencies that serve not only the administration, but also the country’s safety are relentlessly demeaned; the agency for assuring environmental protections, the planet on which all of us share space, exhibits no vision. It’s being sold out to short term economic interests. Migrants, America’s future lifeblood, are being driven from the land.

By now this is old news. I don’t want this to be an “ain’t it awful” rant. Instead, what I’d like to consider is another way of understanding ourselves in today’s adversarial climate. There’s one vision of being with our neighbors and ourselves that might give us heart again and help mitigate the loneliness that our prevailing atmosphere of suspicion has bred.

I’ll paraphrase the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus is teaching. A lawyer in the crowd asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies; love God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

The lawyer (pitching a trick question) asks, so who is my neighbor?

Jesus tells him a story:

A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho has been robbed, beaten and his clothes taken. He’s left half-dead. A priest (establishment clergy) passes by to avoid him, as does a Levite (privileged citizen with social capital). A Samaritan (regarded as a low-life) comes by. He has compassion, goes to the victim, administers first aid as best he can, and puts clothes on him. The Samaritan places the victim on his donkey, takes him to the nearest inn, gives the inn keeper money, instructing him to ‘look after him.’ In the event the inn keeper incurs additional expenses, the Samaritan says he’ll pony up for whatever the amount when he passes by this way again.

So, Jesus asks the lawyer, who of the three was the victim’s neighbor?

The one who showed the victim compassion, the lawyer responds.

Now you know who your neighbor is and what you need to do.

Seems to me as if Jesus was saying to the lawyer that if he really wanted to inherit eternal life, he’d first have to get down to earth and get serious and become personally involved with the needs of his neighbors.

One writer said of our time that we live in a season of vanities and spiritual emptiness. Our psycho-spiritual diet has few nutrients. We’re fed mostly junk food. The symptoms are ennui and hopelessness.

Stories can help; parables, sayings that illuminate the soul, can lift us. We need to hear good news; we yearn for a loftier vision.

I’ve read some of the accounts of the early Christian monks, sometimes called hermits. They meditated in the Egyptian desert. They were a quirky lot, one of whom, Simeon, was reported to have lived sitting on top of a pole in order to have a clear and uncluttered spirit to be with God. It’s similar to Buddhists who, when they meditate, say that they “take the one seat,” only Simeon’s practice was more precarious and surely not as comfortable. All were good men.

As quirky as some were, they spoke the language of the spirit and knew the music of our hearts; they knew of the things that are eternal while at the same time were earthy and temporal. One story from that era illustrates this:

“Once, a certain brother brought a bunch of grapes to the holy Macarius. He, however for love’s sake, thought not on his things but on the things of others, carried it to another brother, who seemed more feeble. And the sick man gave thanks for the kindness of his brother, but he too, thinking more of his neighbors than himself, brought it to another, and he again to another, and so that same bunch of grapes was carried around to all the cells, scattered as they were far over the desert; and no one, knowing who first had sent it, it was brought at last to the first giver.”

Considering the miserable climate these men lived in, and despite their personal idiosyncrasies, in my book they sure are the kind of neighbors I’d take any day.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Looking to George Washington for Inspiration by Craig Fuller

Our uniquely American July 4th holiday provides an opportunity to reflect on our freedoms and liberties. However, I must confess that this year I feel kind of a bittersweet sensation as families and friends take time to celebrate the freedoms secured by individuals who left their native countries to find a better life here in America. It is appropriate to commemorate those who saw the courage to pursue their dreams that became America, yet how ironic we celebrate while policies of our government separate children from families and detain them for mustering that same kind of courage in pursuit of a dream for a better life.

While no easy answer is likely to present itself, perhaps the words of American children to those being held that “we are a better country” and “you are not alone” will be sufficient to move our elected officials to find a more compassionate and, yes, a more American approach to immigration than what we have in place today.

Thinking about this Fourth of July, I searched for an inspiring topic and found one in an unusual place, The Washington Post.

Now, I don’t mean to be critical of the newspaper, but it’s just not a place where a lot of inspiring ideas come from these days. However, a piece caught my eye about how our first President had lived by 110 Rules of Civility and Decency. It caused me to pause and wonder what better way to reflect on our freedoms and liberties this July 4th than to turn to one of our founding fathers for inspiration.

Rather than just use the Rules selected by the Post’s writer, I decided to look at the entire list and check out the story…kind of a “trust but verify” moment.

It turns out that a young George Washington actually wrote out all 110 Rules as a handwriting lesson. The rules he copied were based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595.

“Fake News,” you say….well, maybe. But, a close reading of the story doesn’t say Washington composed the rules, only that he wrote them down and lived by them. Hard to fact check that one.

Regardless, I think the fact that people thought enough about civility and decency in the late 1500s to write out 110 Rules might be something to pay attention to today.

So, as we celebrate our freedom and liberty this week, let’s reflect on how we might all benefit from a good deal more civility and decency in the world today….and, let’s hope our first President might inspire other leaders just a bit!

You will find the list of 110 Rules in their entirety by clicking on RULES. The list is provided by the Foundations Magazine.

The following is a sampling offered in modern day English:

Treat everyone with respect.

Be considerate of others. Do not embarrass others.

Don’t draw attention to yourself.

When you speak, be concise.

Do not argue with your superior. Submit your ideas with humility.

When a person does their best and fails, do not criticize him.

When you must give advice or criticism, consider the timing, whether it should be given in public or private, the manner and above all be gentle.

If you are corrected, take it without argument. If you were wrongly judged, correct it later.

Do not make fun of anything important to others.

If you criticize someone else of something, make sure you are not guilty of it yourself.

Actions speak louder than words.

Wishing you a very safe and happy July 4th!

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Out and About (Sort of) Fractious Fourth Howard Freedlander

Tomorrow is viewed as our nation’s official birthday, its 232nd. Not very old in a world filled with thousands-old countries.

For some reason, I always think fondly about Ben Franklin at this time. Friends wouldn’t be surprised. After all, this renowned and respected founder and Declaration of Independence signer founded my alma mater. I’m clearly biased about his stature in our short history.

Ben Franklin

 

I just finished reading a book, The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin’s House, about Ben’s tortuous relationship with his son, William. The latter, the British governor of New Jersey, decided to retain his allegiance to the Crown during the Revolutionary War. This decision ruined his relationship with his father, naturally enough. The elder father could not persuade his son to side with the patriots.

Due to his resolute devotion to King George III, William was removed from the governor’s house and imprisoned in a Connecticut prison. He suffered dearly in solitary confinement. When released, he continued to sabotage the patriots’ cause by directing guerilla raids against the Continental Army.

This horrible rift between a father and a son interested me. While I knew our American Civil War in the mid-19th century irreparably split families and friends, I never thought about equally damaging fissures during the war between the Colonies and its British overlords. The Franklin imbroglio illustrated the divided loyalties as the patriots sought control of their own destiny. Those loyal to the Mother Country felt passionate too about their emotional, political and commercial ties to the United Kingdom.

William Franklin

Ben Franklin was a great man. His achievements in the civic, academic, scientific and political worlds are legendary. His brain was first-class. His writing was shrewd and coy. His diplomatic skills in the last part of his life were critical to our nation before and during the Revolutionary War. He had many friends and admirers in England and France—and his share of enemies in the former.

When William sought reconciliation with his father after the war, the elder rebuffed him. He could not accept what he perceived as his son’s disloyalty to him.

Many families split over money and perceived slights. Gentle Ben could not forgive his son for what he considered misplaced fealty.

When this giant of a statesman died, he left nothing to William, except his wrath. While understanding that political passions run deep, particularly when the Colonies so strongly resented British repression, I thought that Ben Franklin could have opted for compassion for his son.

It was not to be. The familial ties had frayed beyond repair.

As we well know, our national leaders are flawed human beings. Sometimes their families suffer from their overriding ambition and vanity. They bear grudges that they are hard-pressed to toss away.

July Fourth still thrills me. Due in no part to the fireworks, I cherish our time to celebrate the birth of a young, vibrant and resilient nation whose current leadership is abysmal but changeable, hopefully, in two years. Though I’m not sure we’ve endured a more amoral White House occupant, our founders created a country that can withstand seriously defective leaders.

Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington set a standard for excellence and selfless service.

The contrast is never greater than today.

I love this country. We will celebrate a glorious occasion tomorrow. We are a better, more humane country than represented so poorly by Mr. Trump.

I continue to be an optimist. Our fractious country, led by a divider, not a unifier, is better and more decent than what emanates from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We respect human dignity.

As a sad postscript to this column, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the five journalists killed last Thursday at the office of the Annapolis Capital newspaper. My youngest daughter knew one of the five. The crazed gunman continues to live. He caused irreparable personal damage and community hurt.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.